Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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a lot of ways we are environmental activist. We belong to
many groups that support environmental practices. We attend
continuing education classes as a way to keep our nutrient management
certification or certified farmer status as it is called in Maryland.
are members of various groups local and national that relate to
specific functions associated with the farming community and specifically to
environmental issues that we practice. We practice what we preach,
that is how, with confidence, we can give tours of our sustainable
operation and impart ways that non-farmers can help the environment in their
there is the consumer activist side that dictates my spending
habits. I firmly believe, and economics proves, that my money speaks
louder than I do. After each of my posts I implore the buy local
mantra. I have learned that if you do not walk the
walk, you cannot talk the talk. It is that simple, I am not
naïve, I know that there are limits based on income. However, I know of a lot of people who are spendavist and products labeled Non-GMO Project Verified are their targets.
you find a genuine sustainable farmer support them. Speak up with your money
and gratitude. These people are working and committing themselves to your
health and the health of your family and generations to come. It is important
to note that if we all made choices to support local businesses and
growers then the industrial food complex will react. If you look at the
countries that ban GMO's it will surprise you. One of the latest
country's to refuse GMO food from US big Ag is China. China, the same
producers that brought us high sulfuric dry-wall, leaden toys
and clothing, killer pet food and treats.
admit, I was stunned to learn that they rejected GMO's, then I got scared. It
was one of those out of body experiences a moment of clarity
that solidified my stance against eating GMO's. Then knowing that we
have joined a cause that really is a worldwide issue adds to the pressure to
is not just us in the USA, it is humans all over this planet. We are
all in it together and it is a fight for future existence. What I see is that
it is greater than all of us and will impact future generations. The science
points this out but does not reach as drastic a conclusion. It merely
states the facts as they find them. If however, nothing changes then
the environmental impact continues in an increasingly negative way and we
will run out of clean resources.
local is not a fad, it is a core shift in how we as individuals can
communally join hands and fight for those who will inherit this earth long
after we are gone. Because it is those people who will suffer the greatest but
it also you who will benefit now. Spend your money in a way that helps you,
your community and your lineage. Be a spendavist, use your money to dictate
what big Ag should be doing. It is the only voice they know to listen
to. If the money stops flowing they will change course to capture it back.
Local: Help make a difference and impact the future in a
Posted by Brian
@ 08:08 PM EST
Without knowing at the time, I first learned about the degradation of our food supply before I was a teenager. Sad really, but I now know what I thought was a bad idea really was. It was the late sixties, early seventies and we had a High’s ice cream store down the street. I loved their Butter Brickle ice cream, I do not know what butter brickle is I just know it was decedent.
One day I went to the store and got my favorite, only this time it tasted different. It did not have the same taste. Now, I ate it, but I dismissed what I tasted knowing the next time it would be okay. However, the next time I got my favorite the taste was off again. It then occurred to me that something had changed and for the worst, but still not really understanding that what I was witnessing was the demise of all things natural, tasty and actually healthy. I did not know it at the time but the industrial food complex started to bring chemistry into our food supply because it increased their profits, not the consumer’s health. When the flavor of your ice cream changes a ten-year-old palette is spot on even though a child’s palette is not that sophisticated.
I stopped buying butter brickle and went back to vanilla. When their vanilla changed, I stopped buying ice cream. Through the years, I would try different makers but never got that taste. I still eat ice cream but we make it ourselves from the cream of an organic Guernsey cow’s milk. No chemicals, preservatives, hormones, steroids or antibiotics, flavor enhancer’s stabilizers nothing but sweet cream. While being fun to make it is healthier to eat.
Say, what you want about the advancement of food science, one thing for sure is that the greedy have used it at the detriment of taste, health and the environment. I am sure everyone can remember a special food or treat that one day changed taste. I am not talking about new Coke versus old Coke, but that made from staples, milk, eggs, meat, breads, fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes, we are the generation that saw the humble, tasty tomato turned into a tasteless cardboard orb. There is no argument that anyone could make about the benefits of food science without feeling a modicum of shame when talking about the tomato.
The bastardization of our foods is why the "Slow Food", "Local Food", "Sustainable/Organic" food movements have been gaining in followers and spreading around the world. Slow food started in Italy, organic started in the European community and local food came about in the United States. Sustainable agriculture is a worldwide initiative, as it should be. If we do not take care of our environment, our children’s children will be the ones to feel the brunt with future generations in even greater peril. As you read this there are people out there trying to protect us from GMO’s. Monsanto on the other hand spent millions to defeat Prop 37 in California. This is all to close to the great tobacco debate for my comfort. How many years did big tobacco provide scientific evidence that cigarettes were not bad?
That is why what small farmers do is vital to the future of the environment and health of all humans. Have you ever heard of a recall from a local farm or a local butcher? While the New York Times and Wall Street Journal print stories about how sustainable farming will not work, they conveniently leave out the facts from decades of studies. From the beginning of our nation to the 1950’s farmers were organic. Chemicals were not introduced into the farm model until after WWII, when the government had to do something with their stockpile of ammonium nitrate from unused bombs.
A scientist found it made a good fertilizer but also fed weeds. You know the rest, as the “green revolution", took foothold. As chemical use rose so did cancer rates, upper respiratory problems, food borne allergies and most importantly the decline of nutritional values in all of our fruits and vegetables. USDA has been keeping track of nutrient values for produced fruits and vegetables since the 1950’s and since then the nutrient values have declined.
That fact shocked me but I guess it did not surprise me. I learned a long time ago that an organic plant would struggle to get nutrients from the ground and conventional plants do not. That struggle makes the plant nutritious and tasty, the saying “that which does not kill you serves to make you stronger,” really fits. America's diet, known as the Western diet, is from highly refined grains and sugars, high fat and little organic or nutrient benefit. To learn more read Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”. It is informative and gives vetted reasons why obesity and other Western diseases are prevalent here but not in France, where their diet is high in fat and sugars. Known as the French paradox in nutritional circles, their diet creates a conundrum for Western food scientist, who can not explain how such an unhealthy diet does not cause the rates of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and obesity that afflict American eaters.
When you consider Americans use to eat as the French, before the 1950’s, questions about todays dietary diseases naturally occur, especially when you hear the French do not have the numbers of obese people, heart attacks, food allergies and all the other Western anomalies in comparison to our numbers. Not only has food science played a roll in the degradation of our nutrient sources but of taste. It has taken forty years but I am finally understanding and able to connect the dots.
Buy Local: Now that you know, what will you do?
Posted by Brian
@ 08:15 PM EST
A New York Times columnist wrote an article about how the grass fed grazing model is not sustainable. I grew up in an era when Edward R. Morrow was retiring and Walter Cronkite was becoming America's uncle. Journalistic integrity was paramount in all mediums of news back then. Yes, there was the National Enquirer and people would sneakily purchase it as a guilty pleasure.
What I see today is that the National Enquirer model has become the standard-bearer for news in general. What is particularly galling about this article is that the reporter did not have his facts correct nor did he try to make it a balanced article. He went as far to attack Polyface Farm and Joel Salatin. Yet, I derive great pleasure from this article. You see it indicates to me that the industrial food complex is becoming concerned. Buy local and sustainable agriculture are making headways into American consumerism. Judging from the backlash and furry that I see on internet posts we are pro-sustainability. I ask myself; why else would this reporter tout concentrated animal farm operations (CAFO’s)? He blatantly or conveniently leaves out the suffering of animals in these CAFO’s and does not even begin to address the pollution and environmental degradation caused by them.
Study upon study points to increased endocrine problems including hormonal imbalance, anti-biotic resistant bacteria, cancers, food allergies and other maladies caused by the exact object he touts as being the proper way of feeding Americans. He goes so far as to say that animals reared outside using management intensive grazing (sustainable techniques) actually adds to the methane levels and global warming.
We have known for years that governments use fear and misinformation as ways to sway public opinion. Look at our last leader and yellow cake uranium. Yellow cake was used as the reason to start the Iraq war. Only after CIA agent Valerie Plame was outed, did we find out that they knew the analysis was wrong. Fear (WMD’s) and misinformation (yellow cake) caused public opinion and congress to sway in the desired direction. I think it started after the “War of the Worlds” incident; someone saw the general widespread panic and learned from the experience. Phsyops or psychological operations are an integral part when trying to sway public opinion, not the facts. Fact has become a casualty in modern society, as has integrity in most aspects of public discourse.
I think Mr.’s. Marrow and Cronkite would be appalled and ashamed at the standards of today’s reporting. The Times article was so skewed towards the IFC to be a blatant endorsement of all that is evil in CAFO’s and its known detriments. To say the least it did nothing to stop the proliferation and use of GMO’s, or Atrizine that castrates and feminizes predictor species or the rise in food born allergies, contamination and resulting recalls. The reporter conveniently leaves out or is ignorant to the pollution and huge carbon footprint needed to generate all these quality CAFO meat products. Joel Salatin responded to the Times article and he addresses the misnomers far better than I ever could.
Lastly, but most importantly the reporter does not even begin to talk about recalls and the devastating affect that contaminated food, supplied by the IFC, has on the general consumer. I have asked this before; have you ever heard of a recall from a local small farmer or a local butcher? Why not? I think it is because your local small farmer or butcher has everything to lose if someone gets sick or dies from his or her product. Besides that, they feed their family and friends. The IFC companies can simply change their name, re-incorporate and keep operating.
The NY-Times article is so biased it leads you to only one conclusion and that is the IFC is the only true food source. What they failed to realize is the breadth and depth of the buy local and sustainable agriculture movements. It is pathetic to say the least but it is an indication to me that the IFC is feeling the affects of these movements. They must be concerned about local food and the fact that you are supporting local small farmers. Maybe the article was a shill for the IFC I do not know and maybe I am to close to the issue to see that the article was balanced and not tipped in anyone direction. However, the logical side of me thinks it is an indication that these times, they are a changing.
Buy Local: We all can and do make a difference, which is an investment for future generations.
Posted by Brian
@ 01:05 PM EDT
There is institutional advertising that a major seed manufacturer is playing over the radio airwaves. It is about how farming uses so much water and that their genetically engineered seeds will use less water and yield more food and how this is going to help farmers world-wide. If that is true, why is this major seed manufacturer suing American farmers for patent infringement? The infringement, by the way, is caused by pollen drift. Pollen drift, think about that, bees, wind, birds and insects all carry pollen. Pollen from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) fields or even trucks carrying gmo products drift into neighboring fields and boom, the company sues the farmer for patent infringement. In addition, the court rulings have backed up the company not the farmer.
When pollen drift is as natural and inevitable as the sunrise why is the farmer on the hook for stopping GMO pollen drift? Go to www.hulu.com and search for the "Future of Food". It is a documentary on how genetic engineering was accomplished, how seeds are patented and then used as a big stick to force farmers into the herbicide ready club and how pollen drift allows Monsanto to sue farmers. However, in one of the greatest examples of turning the tables Wood Prairie Farms, an organic potato farm, has brought a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for contaminating their organic potatoes. Now that is fighting fire with fire.
We are at a cross roads in our concepts of food, where you see grass root efforts like the Slow Food, buy local, urban farming and support local farms movements. We have groups like Ark of Taste, which is a movement to bring back heritage breeds from pigs, cows and chickens to tomatoes and everything else that has been genetically modified to fit the needs of the profit motive not the taste for consumers. From my standpoint, nasty chemicals on the food and pathogens cause health problems. Recall after recall, year after year, has become commonplace because the industrial food complex is making people seriously ill, with some resulting in death. What is worse is that recalls are a relatively new phenomenon. Did we have recalls in the sixties and seventies? My mind is going but I do not know of any.
We have had recalls because people are getting sick and we are hearing more and more about bacteria becoming anti-biotic resistant. We know that Atrizine is an endocrine disrupter. The endocrine system in the human body regulates hormonal balance. Studies recently found that high levels of Atrizine are castrating and feminizing other predictor species. Predictor species like bass and frogs have similar physiological make ups as humans, hence “predictor”. Scientist look at predictor species with the supposition that what happens to them is an indication of what can happen to humans. Atrizine is one of the most used chemicals by the IFC.
Then there is taste, remember taste, when tomatoes were sweet, soft, watery spheres of goodness. Which would you pick to eat, a tomato from the grocery store or one out of the garden? So far, every single person that I have asked that question picks the latter. Why? Because there came a time when the IFC turned the tomato into a bottom line calculation and its taste was compromised for its longevity. As was most vegetables and fruit.
An organic plant struggles to get its nutrients out of the ground. When a predator attacks the plant, the plant releases its own sent that attracts bugs that are predators or parasites of the bug eating its leaves. This does not work with a heavy infestation but if the plant survives, it grows stronger and has a better taste then a plant that was sprayed with synthetic fertilizers and insecticides. That is why when you grow fruits and vegetables you want to get native plants in your own area. The fauna has lived and adapted to the environment. That means they have adapted and survived the bugs, fungi etcetera.
I trust my taste buds, I know what is on my plants, I know that the more we allow large corporations to genetically modify food the greater susceptibility we all face for unknown genetic mutation, and greater risk of bacterial out breaks caused by anti-biotic resistance. That is why more than ever supporting your local farmer is important. It really is cheaper and healthier for everyone in the end.
Buy Local: Every dollar you spend keeps local growers growing.
Posted by Brian
@ 07:43 AM EDT
I do not want to offend anyone but I know I will. It is like passing the scene of an accident and you do not want to look, you know you should not look; you should be paying attention to driving the vehicle undistracted. As you creep along with traffic these thoughts go threw your head. You are not going look that is all there is to it. Then there is an instant, it is less then a second, something takes over and your head turns, and you look. You did not mean to, you intended not to, you had all the best of intentions of avoiding it but there it is, against your deepest thought, it happened.
Well someone is going to get offended so let me apologize up-front. Please remember these are just observations that I have made over the years of living in a suburban and rural environment. I officially have more years living out of the city than I do living in the city. Although my observations may be born of naïveté, they are just observations.
We talk about food and how certain foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts) whole foods, mainly, are good for your health. You can read how our meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables are grown makes a huge difference in the eco-system and on all our scarce resources. There are huge conglomerates spending millions, if not billions, on chemical, biological and physical ways to change, alter, elongate, preserve, extend, affect appearance, stop infestations; the list for what they want to do to whole foods is endless. Even though the research might show evidence of serious negative affects on the human body or the environment, it can be squelched and the product can be introduced into the industrial food chain.
Think back to GMO corn and how it was not suppose to be in our food supply. Then in the early 2000’s a woman has a seizure triggered from eating a taco shell made out of GMO corn. Is titanium dioxide here in the US or not (see GRAS and Nano-Tech)? If so, what products use that nano-technology? It has been found in Great Brittan; of course, it took an independent study to find that fact. At least the European consumers are being made aware of this additive. The IFC knows the extent of the degradation of the earth and our resources and they act to minimize or out right cover up those facts and introduce the product into the food chain anyway.
Bisphenol A, (BPA’s) Titanium Dioxide and Diactyl come to mind because these are the things we know, there have been news reports, independent scientific analysis and medical research pointing to the ills of the these two food additives and the third in plastic containers. Even with the knowledge they were still introduced in the worlds food supply
We are woefully under armed and overwhelmed from the sheer size of the other side. It is us against them and our side is slowly getting bigger. Each year consumers get a little more educated about the ills of industrial farming practices and as more recalls take place the question of food safety becomes more important to the consumer.
As a small farm we get a little bigger each year, plant a little more, add a few more chickens, and get more land certified organic. The Industrial Food Complex is not doing the present and the future any favors. Think endocrine disruptors, food alergies, e-coli outbreaks, feminized bass and castrated bull frogs..
This brings me back to insulting someone. We live on a small farm, surrounded by other small farms. Our house sits in the middle of fifty-five acres. On our left is a farm, on our right is a farm and behind us is a farm. In front of our house is a flood zone. Our smallest buffer zone is about a thousand feet from all of my conventional neighbors. National Organic Procedures call for twenty-five feet of hedgerow or buffer zone.
Our neighbors grow grains, hay and forage for their animals. Therefore, there is all this food being grown around our little two acres of fruits and vegetables. I mean hundreds of acres surrounding our vegetable and fruit gardens. Yet with all this GMO food growing for animal feed and other applications the wildlife pick our gardens to raid. Ground hogs will leave the protection of the edge of the tree line to raid the garden, raccoons, turkeys, our own chickens, rabbits and deer. We fight them all to get the food to market.
With signs advertising certified organic we sit at the farmers market with our offerings and people will pass us by to go to the huckster to buy vegetables. The Maryland Department of Agriculture defines hucksters as those people that buy and resell fruits and vegetables. The vegetables just look better I admit that, but we know they did not grow it, they cannot tell the customer what farm it came from or what chemicals are on it. At our house the wildlife has hundreds of acres of food to choose from yet they choose to find ours and what that tells me is even wild animals know what tastes better.
Buy Local- From a farmer you know and invites you to visit the farm to learn more.
p.s. Yes, it has been a very hot summer, we are suffering a drought and a stink bug infestation that is wearing on me, if you are reading this you are already informed and knowledgeable about fresh local foods, so please don’t take offense and thank you for letting me vent. If you are not reading this then......
Posted by Brian
@ 09:00 AM EDT
Okay, maybe this is another rant against the industrial food complex, but I was brought up to stand up for what is right and not to sit back when someone was in trouble. My parents raised all of their kids to treat everyone equally regardless of skin color or religion. Besides, I like to think of it as educational more than just a rant.
We all know that our food supply has many flaws, often we get to read about the major events when they happen. What we don't get to read about unless you dig deep is the smaller stuff. Like how the IFC is able to sell chickens labeled as "free-range" even though the chicken has never been outside on grass, ever! I got to give them credit, it takes a certain kind of sleaze to take a regulation that is meant to be beneficial to the consumer and use it against them.
On their website the USDA defines free range or free roaming thusly: Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
Now to you and I that means the chicken should be outside on grass. The USDA has found that there are broiler houses that hold tens of thousands of chickens that are being labeled and sold as free range even though they have never been outside. Why? Because the houses have a door at one end and they can open them to the outside. It doesn't matter that the door opens up to a cement pad or to dirt or the best case, grass. Never mind the area outside wasn't large enough to hold all 10,000 birds; the producers will tell you they meet the USDA definition.
I've only been raising layers for the last three years. I am not a knowledge expert by any means. What I do know is that we get chicks at a day old, raise them indoors until they can handle the weather outside, usually 8-10 weeks. We move them to a moveable house that has no bottom and is surrounded by an electrified fence. The fence is to keep predators out not the chickens in. They can fly the coop, if you will, pretty easy. As they get older they hardly ever do. They get in a routine and it doesn't seem to change.
Most broilers are processed between 12 and 15 weeks of age. The sooner a broiler is processed the more tender the meat. 10,000 birds raised in a closed environment will remain in a closed environment when a single door is open. It's not like the door is a garage door either, the USDA found that some of these houses had one door leading to, you guessed it, a cement pad.
The USDA is changing the rule because the IFC took advantage of the current regulation by calling housed chickens free range. What we've read and commented on from the USDA helps to clearly define FREE RANGE. Until the new regulations are put into affect the monoliths that feed the IFC will continue to label and sell housed chickens as free range.
You're asking "now what? How do I know which company really has free range chickens or chickens just labeled as free range? It is easier than you think. Just buy local. Find a farmer that raises free range chickens in your area. Go to the farm, talk to them and see for yourself what their free range practices are. LocalHarvest has a great search tool to find them.
Your buying habits will need to change somewhat in that you won't be able to just go there and buy a chicken, you might, and it depends on the farm. In some cases you'll need to order the bird before hand and you might need to buy in quantity in order to have chicken whenever you want. The trade off is you get fresh, tasty, real free range chickens and eggs. If you don't believe me, buy a store bought chicken and a local free range chicken. Cook them the same and give your family and friends a blind taste test. Not only is it a fun activity you'll get to see for yourself through others taste buds.
BUY LOCAL - from a farmer, not from a chain hard selling the fact.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:59 AM EDT
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